The backcountry is a place for serenity and personal challenge, and, as in any public space, there’s an etiquette to maintaining this environment.
Some of this etiquette may be obvious, some may not be. But after 20 years recreating in the woods and nine years as a backcountry guide, I am confident that it basically boils down to: “Try to act as if other humans exist in the world,” and “Try to act as if the natural world has inherent value beyond you.”
However, here are some specific rules, that, if followed, would improve the backcountry experience for everyone. And if you feel like some of them are a little obvious, trust me, I know. I wouldn’t write this article if I didn’t see people breaking them all the time.
1. Uphill Travel Has the Right of Way
Please stop blasting down trails. Take a few minutes to scope out the yield pattern. If you’re on your way down the mountain, stop for those coming up! Trying to maintain a steady rhythm is very helpful when you’re climbing. However, if I step off the trail to take a breather, feel free to pass me by. Just don’t make me get out of your way.
2. Keep Your Dog Under Control
Hey – I am a dog person for sure but you don’t know that. If you’re dog sprints away and starts jumping all over other people on the trail, you should reconsider the leash—and you’re definitely not allowed to say, “He’s never acted like this before!” We both know that’s a stretch.
3. Respect your Neighbor’s Privacy in Camp
One of the perks of camping in the backcountry is having some alone time with your surroundings. The working assumption should be that if we have to camp near one another, we’ll respect one another’s campsites and space. If you are camping close to others, it can be nice to chat and sit around the fire – but respect their space and keep it down if they are looking for some solo time.
4. Say Hello, But Don’t Give Unwanted Advice
Meeting people on the trail can be a lot of fun. Chances are we have a lot in common and enjoy the same things. Please don’t treat the trail as a place to run an infomercial. Yes, you love your gear and if others ask you for advice that’s great but don’t bombard others with all the gear they SHOULD be using.
5. Don’t Play Your Music on Speakers
Concerts are great and all but try to keep it off the trail. I’ve been trying to figure out if people who bring speakers assume that everyone likes their music, or if they don’t realize I can hear it. Either way, if we’re in the woods, I promise I don’t like your music, even if I usually like that song you’re playing. I’m out here for the silence, please put in earbuds if you have to have your tunes.
6. Stay Out of the Skin Track
A skin track is a trail of packed snow for uphill ski travel. It takes a lot of work to make, and it makes skiing uphill somewhat pleasant. The skin track is not a highway for snowshoers and every hiker without proper flotation. Your feet will ruin it for the next skier, so keep off of it.
7. Bring the Proper Gear and Know How to Use It
By all means, come do rad stuff in the backcountry. Just bring the right gear to rescue yourself, and know how to use it. Everyone’s a beginner at some point, but you should get instruction and feel comfortable before putting those skills to the test in dangerous situations. Don’t expect those who happen to be nearby to help. I’ll help you if you need it, but I’d rather we both just get to have fun.
8. Carry Your Trash Out
If you bring something into the woods, carry it back out. It can’t be more simple. It doesn’t matter if it’s a “biodegradable” (it’s not really) orange peel or a Gu packet. Carry it out!
9. Poop Properly
If you’re below treeline, bury it six inches deep. If you’re above treeline, carry it out. And if you refuse to wipe with sticks and rocks like a normal person and only use toilet paper, carry that out with you. It doesn’t decompose well and no one else is going to carry it out for you!
We all love the outdoors and together we can continue to preserve and protect the lands we want to explore.
Written by Richard Forbes for Matcha in partnership with Gregory Mountain Products.
Featured image provided by Wolfgang Lutz